Alberto Gomes says Malaysian children should be exposed to the culture and lifestyles of the indigenous community to eradicate the stigma held against them.
An anthropologist with 40 years’ experience with the Orang Asli says the education ministry needs to expose urban children to their lifestyle and culture to erase misconceptions still being harboured about them.
Alberto Gomes, a professor at La Trobe University in Australia, said the indigenous people have not gotten the respect they deserve from Malaysians, as they are looked down upon and considered primitive by the mainstream population.
“There are a lot of Orang Asli lawyers and doctors, but the moment they say that they are Orang Asli they are considered inferior,” he told FMT today.
He said it is crucial to remove the embedded thinking among Malaysians that the native community is inferior to others due to their way of life.
“Perhaps have field trips to their villages. Educate our children on the Orang Asli lifestyle or have them to give talks to the urban kids,” said the director of the Dialogue, Empathic Engagement, and Peacebuilding ( DEEP ) Network, a global peace-building organisation.
He said Malaysians can take inspiration from the values and cultures at the heart of the Orang Asli, such as the concept of giving, the sense of community, respect and having empathy for others.
Gomes had earlier today given a talk titled “Materially Poor, Morally Rich: Orang Asli, Malaysia’s First People” at Sunway University here.
He said modern urban society has a good deal to learn from the Orang Asli who are peace-loving and have deep respect for the environment which is considered divine to them.
He said they believe they are part of nature and destroying nature would mean destroying a part of themselves.
“They treat others with respect. If one were to go to their village, they will include the person as one of them. It is truly an inclusive society,” he said.
“Theirs is a culture of giving. If they buy a fish, they will buy five of it. One for them and another four for their neighbours… It is the sense of giving that cements their community.”
Gomes, who lived with the Orang Asli in the 80s to study their way of life, said there are a lot of social problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse inflicting their youths today.
He said most of the youth have been made to feel ashamed of their own traditional culture as well as being alienated from mainstream society.
“Their identities have been robbed as their cultures are laughed upon and are considered primitive,” he said.
“The youths do not want to be part of their culture but the mainstream society does not want to accept them either,” he added.
Gomes said the Orang Asli are also facing the problem of displacement with land being taken from them.
“They adhere to an elaborate and complex system of land ownership which is not recognised or acknowledged by the authorities.
“They also maintain a strong spiritual and historical connection to their land and if they are displaced from their homeland, the loss of this connection has negative implications for their identities and social and mental wellbeing.”
He added for example that members of the community that live around Tapah and along the way to Cameron Highlands have reported that they are discriminated at in hospitals by the medical staff.
It is estimated that there are some 120,000 Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia. They include ethnic groups like the Temiar, Semai, Lanoh, Semnan, Sabum, Kensiu, Batek, Kentaq Bong, Jehai, Medrique, Tonga, Temuan, Jakun, Orang Kanaq and Orang Selitar.